Growing Pains Tug at Silver's Heart

I don't know how much more of this I can take, but I know I'm going to take more.

Anyone with an eye on precious metal miners knows the saga by now: 82-year-old senior silver producer Coeur d'Alene Mines (NYSE: CDE  ) was nearly crushed by the combined weight of the 2008 metals correction and a series of setbacks in its aggressive multimine build-out phase.

Since the company moved from the bottom of the heap to near the top of the silver sector virtually overnight, a battalion of battle-weary investors has awaited an overdue reward for their enduring patience, preferably on the company's bottom line. Given the sector's impressive record of recent margin expansion, the second quarter seemed an appropriate time for Coeur d'Alene Mines to deliver significant profitability.

Unfortunately, despite very impressive operational achievements, Coeur posted a second-quarter net loss of $50.7 million, following a painful $42.5 million fair-value adjustment relating to the company's gold royalty obligation (at least 400,000 ounces of the Palmarejo Mine's future production) with royalty specialist Franco-Nevada.

Essentially, the cost of the company's $75 million capital injection, which helped bring Palmarejo into production and ease a major crisis of confidence in the shares, continues to rise alongside the price of gold. Royalty payments in the second quarter raised total cash costs of production by 4% over the cash operating cost of $8.06 per ounce.

As disappointing as that fair-value adjustment is to shareholders waiting for a lift from Coeur d'Alene, this Fool intends to stick around for the long haul. Near-term escalation of production costs causes me little concern, since it's not uncommon among miners executing simultaneous ramp-ups on multiple mines. For the full year 2010, Coeur intends to deliver 17.3 million ounces of silver (with 170,000 ounces of gold).

Coeur is guiding for significant operational improvement over the balance of the year. Part of that improvement will stem from higher-grade ores and improved ore blending procedures at Palmarejo, while the ramp-up underway at the new Kensington gold mine in Alaska will chip in some seriously cost-cutting gold production through the balance of the year.

Production from Palmarejo rose sharply for the month of July, and cash costs plummeted, from the $10.78 recorded in the second quarter to a negative cost (after gold credits) of ($0.97) per ounce. Despite a rough start, Coeur expects the mine's full-year cost to reach just $3 per ounce.

As Coeur d'Alene continues to work through its growing pains, incoming silver investors may be rightly inclined to consider top-quality performers like my top pick Silver Wheaton (NYSE: SLW  ) or Fool favorite Hecla Mining (NYSE: HL  ) instead. Fools eyeing potentially higher returns with a touch more risk might consider a solid U.S.-listed junior miner like Endeavour Silver (AMEX: EXK  ) , or a resource-rich prospect like Silver Standard Resources (Nasdaq: SSRI  ) . Over the next several years, I expect each of these names to perform admirably on the back of higher silver prices. To say I'm bullish about the prospects for the new Global X Silver Miners ETF (NYSE: SIL  ) would be an understatement.

Although Coeur d'Alene continues to break my heart, I remain a glutton for near-term punishment, sustained by the promise of long-term momentum in both production and profitability.

The silver tag at Motley Fool CAPS lists 15 silver-related companies that provide a foundation for further research. If you haven't done so already, please join the free community and cast your votes on these purveyors of the shiniest metal around.

Fool contributor Christopher Barker carries a silver coin which reads, "Honest value never fails." He can be found blogging actively and acting Foolishly within the CAPS community under the username TMFSinchiruna. He tweets. He owns shares of Coeur d'Alene Mines, Endeavour Silver, Hecla Mining, Silver Standard Resources, and Silver Wheaton. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is 0.999 pure.


Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (13)

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  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2010, at 2:58 PM, outoffocus wrote:

    Man that hurt. Thankfully the stock isn't tanking (falling but not tanking), but still. The CEO needs to take a pay cut or something lol. J/K This stock still has a high beta so if silver prices spike anytime soon, so will this stock.

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2010, at 4:50 PM, Aquagaliente wrote:

    EXK, HL and CDE has now presented their 2nd. Q 2010 and none of them has anything to brag about. They all produced more silver and gold and the silver and gold prices has hardly been higher. What is wrong since they can't produce a Investor friendly result? Is it still worth to have your money parked in Silver stocks? Anyway follow the stocks seriously and remember your Stop Loss and pray for the 3rd Q 2010..

  • Report this Comment On August 12, 2010, at 2:45 PM, EllenBrandtPhD wrote:

    Chris,

    Any temporary setbacks have given CDE's pesky short position a little more leeway to come out. It is finally going down for the first time in what seems decades!

    More shorts will try to come out today on the news of a community - not mine, community - general strike in Potosi, although CDE was proactive for a change and made statements to major media outlets explaining that this is a one- or two-day wonder which will not affect annual production.

    CDE's recent pact selling gold from Kensington to China was a very big deal, which will get a lot more play as the new mine evolves.

    Meanwhile, the stock being rangebound is actually a good thing if you repeatedly trade it at both ends of the range.

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